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Andrew S.

Terrell - HIST 6393: Atlantic History to 1750

Précis: Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in
Colonial America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Since Jon Butler’s attack on the term Great Awakening in 1982, no scholar has attempted
a synthesis over the revivals that took place throughout much of the eighteenth century.
Historian Thomas S. Kidd, however, ended this period by conceding on some points and taking
the historiography of the period in a modified direction: the study of early evangelicalism.
Feeding off the early success of The Protestant Interest in 2004, Kidd seeks to expand upon his
look at Yankee evangelicals this time applying his level of analysis to much of colonial America.
While he does not go far into origins and intimate connections with Europe in the Great
Awakening, he rightfully says his analysis can easily be used in studying the same period abroad;
he simply had no room in this monograph to cover more than his subtitle suggests. More plainly,
he defends his study’s attention to America because the larger European movements were
quickly overshadowed once the internal dynamics of American society took over.
Kidd begins by stating how the revivals often synonymous with “The Great Awakening”
did not arrive over night, rather they were slow moving trends and left popular society in much
the same way. The remnants of the string of revivals in different parts of the colonies in pre-
Revolutionary America are evangelicalism and live on into the twenty-first century. Kidd
contends that the Great Awakening was great in own right but not because of its sometimes
perceived connection to the American Revolution. Instead, Kidd suggests the period was great
because it began a major alteration of global Christianity. Kidd also address the different views
of the New and Old Light regimes asserting there was middle ground between the two. He
believes the moderates became the majority where evangelical teachings were encouraged but
physical reactions were too vague to be tied to works of Satan or God.
Kidd uses his vast array of primary sources in asserting that new birth mentality
contained egalitarianism both spiritually and socially. However, because of the dynamics in
American society and the working slave economy, Christians would use scriptures to defend the
inequality of slavery and women’s lower social standing. Their belief was that Christ’s message
of hope and the new kingdom was meant for the afterlife. Kidd also reminds his readers that the
largest figure of the Great Awakening, Whitefield, was a slaveholder himself. Thus, he
concludes, though the language of many evangelicals may have seemed to allow membership to
Native and African Americans, individuals would seek Christ first for salvation rather than social
and/or political change. The split of evangelical churches often traces back to this issue.
What seems to be the largest debate among historians of this period and Christianity at
large is the connection or lack thereof to the American Revolution and republicanism at large.
Kidd tends to lean towards the problems with direct connection of evangelicalism to republican
beliefs on the basis that many revolutionaries and early Patriots were not evangelicals, though
some were. Middle Colony churches and a few in New England, he says, did have debates over
the rights of individuals and communities, but these cases were a rarity. However, his contention
that a link between evangelicalism and American Revolutionary treatises is virtually nonexistent
is not thoroughly supported as he identifies several factors that indeed do connect the two social
circumstances.